Tag Archives: Grammar

How to Defeat the Tyranny of Bad Grammar and Worse Sales

Happy North American patriotism week! With Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day, as well as an abundance of summer sunshine, I think we can all agree that the first week of July is a fantastic time to take a few days off. 🙂 With all of this patriotic vacationing going on, we decided to extend
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Quit Trashing Your Writing Voice with This Rookie Mistake

I’ve been thinking about writing this one for quite a while, but I’ve just had a lot of other stuff going on. But I can’t stay silent anymore. We need to talk about a serious issue that’s impeding our ability to have the simplest of conversations. No, I’m not talking about the fraying political discourse.
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The Slippery Truth about Grammar Checkers

It was a brisk winter evening. While editing a Copyblogger article written by Brian Clark, the sound of my fingers tapping on my keyboard harmoniously blended with the rain pattering on the window next to my desk, as the light from the full moon illuminated my computer monitor. Then, as the clock struck midnight, something
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Stop Making These 12 Word Choice Errors Once and for All

"Write the correct words the first time, and you’ll spend less time editing later." – Stefanie Flaxman

Bill is at a wine bar on Saturday night, enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir.

After striking up a playful conversation with Lisa (who prefers Syrah), he asks for her telephone number. Lisa agrees to Bill’s request, and he creates a new “contact” in his cell phone.

“No,” Lisa stops Bill. “You’ll have to memorize it. I don’t want you to write it down.”

Bill accepts the challenge and confidently repeats the 10-digit number a few times aloud. Lisa proceeds to talk about her cat Nibbles for an hour and then leaves the bar after she realizes how late in the evening it has become.

By the next day, Bill has forgotten Lisa’s phone number. He remembers how much Nibbles loves playing with yarn because he used to have a cat that loved yarn … and although he wants to send Lisa a text message, her digits weren’t meaningful to him.

The same thing happens when you memorize the definitions of two similar words instead of learning how to use them.

When you memorize without any meaningful context, you may quickly forget a definition and continually select a word that doesn’t mean what you think it means.

When you learn how to use the following 12 pairs of words, it will be easier to choose the proper one for your content.

Write the correct words the first time, and you’ll spend less time editing later.

1. Compliment vs. Complement

Compliment

A “compliment (noun)” is an “expression of praise.” When you “compliment (verb)” someone, you praise something about her.

“I like your neon-rainbow, unicorn t-shirt” is a compliment.

The word “compliment,” spelled with the letter “i,” should remind you of saying “I like” — how you begin a compliment.

Complement

A “complement (noun)” is “something that completes something else.” When something “complements (verb)” something else, it “makes it whole/adds value to it/completes it.”

Complete is part of the word “complement.”

2. Premiere vs. Premier

Premiere

“Premiere (noun)” is “the first showing of an event.” “Premiere” as other parts of speech conveys a similar meaning.

Premiere could describe a movie premiere. The words “premiere” and “movie” both end with the letter “e.”

Premier

Use the adjective “premier” to describe “the best ___.”

Premier means premium. Neither word ends with the letter “e.”

“Premier (noun)” is less common. The term describes a person who is first in rank.

For example, a “premier” may be a chief executive officer or president of a company.

3. Effect vs. Affect

Effect

The noun “effect” refers to an “outcome or result.”

If you associate “special effects” in movies with “effects,” you’ll remember that “effect” should be used as the noun to describe an outcome.

Affect

The verb “affect” describes something that “manipulates or causes a change.”

An emotional piece of news may affect how you feel after you hear it.

4. Accept vs. Except

Accept

The verb “accept” means “to take in or receive.”

When using the word “accept,” associate it with the word “acceptance” — you take something in; you receive it.

Except

The word “except” is not a verb. It can be used as a preposition, a conjunction, or an idiom. In each form, the word “except” means “with the exclusion of ___.”

When you use the word “except,” you want to exclude something.

5. Ensure vs. Insure

Ensure

Use the verb “ensure” to convey “make certain or guarantee.”

To remember when to use “ensure,” note that the last two letters of the word “guarantee” are “e” and the word “ensure” begins with the letter “e.”

Insure

The verb “insure” communicates “protecting assets against loss or harm.”

If you are discussing the protection of assets, think of car insurance and then use the word “insure.”

6. Regard vs. Regards

Regard

Use “regard” when you want to express consideration or reference something specific.

Writing “in regards to” is one of my content pet peeves.

“Regard” is typically the proper word choice, unless you are sending your feelings of empathy to someone else. Which brings us to …

Regards

“Regards” are your “best wishes or warm greetings.”

7. Beside vs. Besides

Beside

If you want to convey the meaning of “next to or alongside,” use “beside.”

Associate the word “beside” with the word “alongside.” Both words end with the letters “s-i-d-e.”

Beside can also mean “not connected to.” You would write “that is beside the point.”

Besides

The word “besides” means “in addition to.”

“Besides” ends with the letter “s,” which reminds us of a plural word — two or more of something, additional items.

“Besides can also mean “other than/except.”

Associate the “s” sound in the word “except” with the word “besides,” which ends with the letter “s.”

8. Stationery vs. Stationary

Stationery

“Stationery” is always a noun. It’s typically decorative paper and ornate pens. You might use it to jot down quotes from your favorite writing books.

Associate the noun “stationery” with “paper.” The last three letters of the noun “stationery” contain the letters “er.” The word “paper” also ends with the letters “er.”

Stationary

“Stationary” means “still, grounded, or motionless.” It can be used as a noun or adjective.

Since the word “stationary” can also be used as an adjective, associate the “a” in the word “adjective” with the letter “a” in the last three letters in the adjective “stationary.”

9. Precede vs. Proceed

Precede

“Precede” means “to go before.” It is a verb.

Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (1999) was a “prequel” to the original Star Wars film (1977).

The events that took place during the prequel came before (or preceded) Star Wars.

Proceed

“Proceed” is also a verb, but it means “carry on, continue, move forward.”

Think of “proceed” as “proactive, taking the next step in a sequence.”

“Precede” is “before” and “proceed” is “after.”

10. Who’s vs. Whose

Who’s

“Who’s” is a contraction of two words — most commonly, “who is” (present tense), “who has,” or “who was” (past tense).

If you are combining a verb with the word “who,” it’s appropriate to use “who’s” (with an apostrophe).

Whose

“Whose” is a possessive pronoun, similar to “mine,” “yours,” “his,” or “hers.”

If you don’t intend to combine two words with an apostrophe, use the possessive pronoun “whose.”

11. Sometime vs. Some time

Sometime

When “sometime” is one word, it’s an adverb that refers to “one point in time.” For example, “I’d love to have coffee with you sometime.”

Some time

When “some” and “time” are separated as two words, think of the word “some” as an “amount.”

“Some time” is “an amount of time.” For example, “I just ate so much ice cream. It will take some time before I’m hungry again.”

12. Into vs. In to

Into

“Into” is a preposition that means “entering or transforming.” For example, “The fashion designer transformed the ugly fabric into a chic dress.”

A noun typically follows the word “into.”

In to

A verb that pairs with the word “in” typically goes before “in to.”

For example, “During the baseball game, the outfielder moved in to catch the ball.”

Your turn …

Do you have any word choice pet peeves? What are your favorite tips for learning how to use certain words correctly?

How could Lisa have helped Bill learn her phone number, rather than memorize it? 😉

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Pet Peeves from the Copyblogger Editorial Team, and What they Reveal

"No one can nurse a good peeve quite like a group of writers." – Sonia Simone

We’ve written quite a bit lately about identifying core values in your content.

Creating content around a positive value like integrity, fairness, humility, or faith will attract an audience that shares those values — and that fosters a powerful sense of unity.

But our friend negativity bias tells us that the flip side of that will probably be more compelling. In other words, talking about the things that bug you will build an even faster bond with your audience.

For today’s post, I asked our editorial team to let us know their peeves — the things that irritate, bother, and annoy them.

I’m going to try to tease those out and figure out the values behind them — and see what that might say about who we are as a company and a community.

So let’s get peevy.

Stefanie Flaxman’s peeve

Stefanie is our editor-in-chief, and as you’d expect, she has a healthy list of grammar and usage peeves.

But an editor is much more than a proofreader. It’s one thing to misplace a comma — it’s another to come at a post in a fundamentally flawed way. Here’s Stefanie’s peeve:

Hype/extremes/absolutes: Writing voices that are heavy on absolutes tend to simultaneously lack substance and speak to the reader as if they know what’s best for them … which isn’t a combination that builds credibility.

For example, earnestly referring to any flesh-and-blood human being as a “guru” is typically too vague or a sign of hype. If the person is an expert, top scholar, or highly respected professional, use those labels instead — they’re more specific.

What it reveals

Putting this post together reminded me that an Allergy to Hype has always been at the core of Copyblogger’s message. Since Brian founded the blog in 2008, Copyblogger has always stood in contrast to the hype-slingers who substitute flash for value. We believe that substance matters.

Robert Bruce’s peeve

Ten-dollar words: This is an old one, but a good one, and for good reason. Most writers have moderate-to-severe mental problems. I am, obviously, no psychologist, but the attempt to unnecessarily project one’s “intelligence” through the use of big words — when plain words can do the job — seems to be clear evidence of this.

What it reveals

Besides the obvious fact that Robert wins a lifetime “get off my lawn” achievement award, I think this shows how passionate we are about Quality. Quality of information, quality of business practices, quality of writing.

Loryn Thompson’s peeve

You’ve only seen Loryn on the blog once (so far), but she’s crucial to our editorial success. She’s the data analyst who looks at the numbers behind what we’re writing, and helps us to get our message out more effectively.

Here’s Loryn’s peeve:

Using “over” with numbers (instead of “more than”) : As Rainmaker Digital’s data analyst, this one comes up for me a lot. Every time I catch myself writing “over 5%…” in a report, I go back and change it to “more than.” 
 
Now, the Associated Press said in 2014 that both “over” and “more than” are acceptable to use with numeric comparisons — as in, “There were over two hundred people at the event.” But you know what? It still bugs the crap out of me. 

In my mind, “over” mixes the abstract world with the physical realm. For example, if you were to say, “We flew over 6,000 miles …” you could be saying that you flew more than 6,000 miles. Or, you might mean that you were literally above the earth for 6,000 miles.

What it reveals

I picked this one precisely because the team doesn’t agree on it. Some of us are “more than” folks (me, Loryn) and some aren’t. Stefanie tries to remain agnostic.

While it can be fun to give in to that eye twitch when someone makes a style choice we don’t like, I think it’s smart to keep some perspective. There are usually good arguments to be made for different usage choices, so I’ll go with Diversity as a value for this one.

My take is that it’s more important to be thoughtful about your choices than it is to be didactic. Although alot is never going to be a word and you can’t make it one.

Twitch, twitch.

Jerod Morris’s peeve

Jerod’s a person with a strong moral compass, and I was interested to see his peeves. Here’s the one I chose from his:

Misspellings of names: It’s especially bad when the name is a common one that’s misspelled in an obvious way. But any name misspelling shows a lack of basic respect for the subject you’re writing about. It’s not really grammar, but it still makes me cringe. Find out for sure.

What it reveals

Misspelling a name in content is a classic example in failure of what Jerod calls Primility (the intersection between pride and humility). It’s both sloppy (lack of pride) and disrespectful (lack of humility). I think it’s fair to say that Primility is a core value for Jerod, and that’s probably one of the reasons he’s been such a great asset to our company.

We are, make no mistake, proud of the work we do at Copyblogger. We love producing the blog, and we try hard to make it excellent. But we know that humility’s important, too. We’re under no illusion that this blog is perfect, and we try to challenge each other to always make it more relevant, more useful, and more interesting.

Sonia Simone’s peeve

You may feel like you already know more than you need to about my peeves. For today, I revisited a favorite:

Boring content: This one just makes me sad … seeing site after site after site that utterly fails to stand out in any way.

When I see a site with a genuine, passionate voice — even if there are a few usage errors — I may cringe a little, but mostly I cheer. I’d much rather see a site with plenty of G.A.S. than a grammatically perfect one that has no soul.

What it reveals

Individuality is absolutely a core value at Copyblogger. We’ve never endorsed the paint-by-numbers approach to marketing and online business … partly because that would be very boring, and mostly because it just doesn’t work.

And then there’s the Oxford comma

If you aren’t familiar with the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma), it’s that final comma in a collection of items in a sentence.

Here’s a visually amusing example of the same sentence with and without one.

I like the Oxford comma because it’s always clear. Jerod gets downright fierce about his support. That renegade Loryn, though, has come to prefer dropping it.

“I used to be a staunch Oxford Comma advocate, but now I prefer the way short lists flow without it.” – That Renegade Loryn

Either is correct, but do be consistent. (Although the late Bill Walsh, noted Washington Post usage stickler, advises that if a serial comma is important for clarity, go ahead and put one in there, even if it’s not your usual style.)

A note about peeves and unity

I mentioned when we started that talking about the negatives will build a connection with your audience more quickly — and it will. But keep in mind that a steady diet of negativity will give almost anyone indigestion.

Don’t shy away from talking about the good stuff, too. An honest values system includes both positive and negative points of view.

How about you?

What sets your teeth on edge when you see it in a blog post or hear it in a podcast? What do you think that says about you and your values?

Let us know in the comments!

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